What I’ve learned from my first week of research: enter research institution with a full stomach and an empty bladder; do not attempt to plan how long you’ll spend with any given source—you’ll never know what you’ll find, or where it will lead you, or the time required for such adventures; I can’t remember what else I’ve learned, because I’m exhausted.
This past week I read about a ghost cemetery that once existed alongside the bayou, near the Lafitte Greenway. Not a cemetery full of ghosts—those are all over New Orleans—but a cemetery that has become a ghost itself: briefly in use in the mid-19th c. and then “filled in” (What does that mean? What did they do with the bodies??) after just two or three decades, due to a land dispute I need to learn more about. The cemetery was intended to be half Protestant, half Catholic, with each half further divided into sections for whites, free people of color, and slaves.
Mostly, I’ve been rifling through boxes filled with folders filled with tissue-thin letters written on typewriters from 1933-1936 about the WPA-funded Bayou St. John Aquatic Park Project—when that mucky, rubbish-filled, houseboat-infested water was swept clean of its refuse, dredged, leveed, straightened, decked out with grassy banks and flowering bushes and newly paved highways, strapped with fixed-span bridges.… No more ragamuffin children in underwear jumping from broken bridges! Only gondolas, and ladies in nice hats!
I don’t mean to make fun of those fine men whose letters back and forth to one another (letters, I imagine, that were dictated to secretaries as said men paced the floor, gesticulating wildly, like in the movies) I’ve been immersed in all week. The historian’s role is not to judge (but this is a blog, after all…). I actually might miss Walter Parker, Chairman of the Bayou St. John Improvement Association, once I have to move on to other sources. Walter Parker—a man with vision and persistence and the ability to persuade, who is largely responsible for the bayou we all know and love today….
P.S. I’m in the market for a cheap canoe, or a reliable floating-something of any kind, and a single paddle. (Oh! And a doggie lifejacket, size small!)
Photo credit: Lauren Gauthier. Magnolia Bridge, looking up.